Chepang Chhonaam Parba
Chonam (Nwagi) Parva. Chonam (Nwagi) Festival. Today, 22 of Bhadra, is the important day of the Chonam (Nwagi) Parva/festival. Chonam (Nwagi) festival is the main festival of the Chepang tribe/community. Chepang community is one of the indigenous tribes among 59 of them (known till now) of Nepal listed by the Government of Nepal. The Chepang tribe is also known as Nature Worshiper, and they have 22 genealogies (as per Chepang experts), because of this reason and belief Chonam (Nwagi) Parva is celebrated on 22 of Bhadra. Chonam (Nwagi) Parva (Festival) is also celebrated by the people of the Karnali region. In those regions, Chonam (Nwagi) festival is also found as considered to be their New Year.
Chonam (Nwagi) Parva / festival is celebrated in various places like Chitwan, Dhading, Makwanpur, and Gorkha, which are densely populated by the Chepang community or tribe. This festival is celebrated during the month of Bhadra when the new crops and fruits are ripe and ready for consumption. In the past, on the full moon day of Bhadra, the Chepangs used to invite Shaman (Jhankri) known as Pande/Pandey in their local dialect. These Jhankri called are from their own caste and the purpose of this invitation was/is for them to play Ek Mukhe Dhyangro (a kind of a drum made from wood and animal skin but open on one side) whole night to pray and worship the deceased ancestors of the family. But after 2068 this festival date changed and is celebrated on Bhadra 22 which also is a day to start eating new grains from the new crop. It is also a custom in the chepang community to sacrifice chicken on this occasion.
According to the census of 2068 BS, the Chepang community is living in 26 districts of the country and their population is estimated to be 67,903. During the Chonam (Nwagi) festival existing as a religious and cultural festival of Chepang, after the ancestral worship by the Shaman (Pande) whole night and offering the new crops and fruits, etc to ancestors. The family member then consumes or eats new food only after offering new grains and fruits to them first. Since there is a religious belief that if the new food is not offered to the forefather first, the people will contract diseases. Therefore, in today’s Nwagi worship, new food/grains/fruits, etc are offered to the forefather first and then only consumed by family members/others. Chonam (Nwagi) festival is also called “Pandei Ghya Sa” (Pitru Manchaune) by the Chepang community. Similarly, the Chepangs call this festival Chonam as this is the day when this community starts eating the new food of the year.
This festival, which is celebrated especially in the Chepang-dominated areas, Sponge Gourd (Ghiraunla), Snake Gourd (Chichindo), Banana, Ginger, Ghaiya paddy (planted in a dry place which gets ready in Bhadra), etc. are offered to the forefather. On the occasion of this festival, during the night the Jhankri chants Tantra Mantra all night worshipping the forefathers accompanied by the beats of the drum (dhyangro). This puja worship is called off or ends only in the early morning. At the conclusion of the puja or worship, Jhankri invokes the Chepang deity and gives an offering of tika (round sacred dot on the forehead) made of fresh Ghaiya rice to all the members of the household. During this tika ceremony, Pande prays to the Chepang god and offers tika saying, “Let those who have long ages let them live a good and happy life, and do increase the age of those having a short life”. In this way, after the Nwagi Puja celebration and getting offerings from the Jhankri, it is customary to enjoy the new grains and fruits with lots of enjoyment/entertainment in every household. In this way, it is customary as a celebration of Nwagi to have a feast together, talk, and exchange happiness and sorrow with each other staying up all night dancing and having fun.
The Chepang people, who usually live on the hill slopes, celebrate Chonam (Nwagi) festival with great fervor as food grains including maize, paddy, and fruits planted on those slopes get ripe during this month. In this festival, Chepang worships the land god with Ghaiya rice, Taro/Arum (Pindalu), Citrus Aurantifolia (Nibuwa), and other fruits and offers them to their forefather or ancestors. Chonam (Nwagi) is a festival regarded as a celebration of mutual brotherhood and friendship. In this festival, it is a traditional custom to invite one’s neighbors, relatives, family, etc., and to have a group feast. On the occasion of the festival, dances are performed and songs are sung. With songs and dances happiness and sorrow are exchanged.
Chepangs practice/ follow natural/nature religion and thus are known as nature worshipers. Their livelihood is closely linked with the forest as they survive consuming a kind of jungle yam which also gives flowers, these flowers can be used for meditational use (Bhyakur) or Gittha, etc called Gittha in Nepali or Khas Language “Air potato” was slowly being forgotten before as it was poor normal peoples food, i.e Chepangs food. But nowadays it is slowly, steadily, and gradually becoming a popular food item in Nepali society. Gittha growing in a creeper plant covered by its vines, Bhyakkur (a kind of jungle yam) Kandamul (taro and sweet potatoes), etc because of which they have a perfect connection with the jungle. There is no denying that all their activities/things can prove that they both complement each other all year round.
Nature worship is very important for this indigenous community of Nepal as they are well-known for the consumption of different types of potato types of food growing below the soil as Bhyakur (a type of hard yam, scientifically known as Dioscorea, its plants give flowers also, normally greenish-yellow or white, containing six petals; male and female flowers on the same plant. The flower later gives fruit as soft berries inside a capsule for protection against jungle insects), and Gittha (another kind of a jungle yam called air potato) for survival. This is one of the main reasons why Nature Worship is very important for the Chepang tribal community.
For the Chepang tribal people, also listed as one of the endangered tribes on the verge of extinction this festival is an opportunity to savor delicious and new foods. As almost year-round they normally survive on wild yams. That is why today is considered as a day to change their taste buds by eating fresh and sweet foods. Chonam (Nwagi) festival is associated/connected with the lifestyle and culture of the Chepang people. Today, the shaman (Nwagi Falakne Jhankri) including others also participates to perform cultural dances and songs.
Chepang community is especially the native community living in and around the Mahabharat Range (Mahabharat Mountain Range, also known as the lower Himalayan range. Situated mainly in the Inner Terai valley i.e “Bhitri Terai” it is coined as the Lower Himalayan Range. It is enclosed by the Sivalik Hills from the southern part. This range also is believed to have emerged due to the collision of the Indian sub-continent (tectonic plate) with the Eurasian Tectonic plate. The emergence of the mountain range started to form about -+50 million years ago.
All the rites of the Chepang community from birth to death are related to the land. Similarly, the names of their own places, villages, streams, cliffs, etc. are also christened from their own chepang dialect.
Celebrating the Chonam (Nwagi) festival of the economically and socially backward Chepang tribe as an important celebration will surely boost their morale, and it will certainly help to highlight the importance of festivals of every caste/tribe in Nepal. Since every National Day or Festival like Chonam (Nwagi) festival encompass the identity and culture of all Nepalese. Each and every National Day or Festival is of utmost importance. National Days and Festivals certainly help to awaken a sense of devotion in every Nepalese heart and mind to the interests of every Nepali and Nepal to develop the unity of the country by keeping the same sentiments and harmony towards the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural, multi-religious, and geographical diversity of the country. Lots and lots of best wishes of Chonam (Nwagi) Parba of the Chepang community to all the Chepangs as well as all Nepalese of the country and abroad from the Nepali Patro Team on this occasion.
All the Nepali Patro Team send their Best of the Bestest and warmest wishes on behalf of the Chonam (Nwagi) festival of Chepang Community Tribe on this day including all the Nepalese living inside and outside of the countries. Let this festival bring Peace, Happiness, Harmony, Mutual Understanding, Unity, and Social Uniformity among all of us. To Read this article in the Nepali Language please click here.